The next episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples has been reported reverently but confusingly by Matthew, Mark, and John. Those were heady days, of course. Truth is often obscured by the mists of time. This was true for the fictional accounts Kings had written for themselves to cover their sins. In the case of the Apostles, who wrote their gospels long after Jesus’ death, the chronological and exacting method that has made our ancestors famous as historians seems to have been forgotten altogether. For example, when writing their historical accounts, where emotion overwhelms perspective, they failed to make clear the details in a train of events or even explain to the reader where Jesus was at a given time. One of the most confusing accounts is when, after returning from Hippos to Capernaum (according to Matthew, Mark, and John), we saw Jesus moving toward us from the far side of the lake. Where were the disciples when he began his miraculous walk on the water? More importantly where was he? What side on this immense lake was Jesus on when he stepped onto the water? And why, in the first place, since we were looking for our shepherd, were we in one of Peter’s boats. One might easily see Jesus winding up on one side of Lake Gennesaret while we were on the other as a great mystery. It was really very simple, however. When the historical sequence and setting are put into place, there is no mystery at all.
To begin with this was a difficult time for Jesus’ disciples, especially James and me, his brothers. Though it was a leap of faith, we had expected to return to Peter’s house and find him waiting for us, but when we arrived we could find him nowhere in town or in the hills near the lake. I am ashamed to admit it but, after all the wondrous things Jesus had done, we expected the worst. Either the agents of the temple had finally arrested him or he had been stoned by rabble and left dead in some remote spot. It had been late afternoon when we arrived at Peter’s house. Night would soon fall on the lake, but fortunately there was a full moon to light our way. With a lantern in his hand, after we searched high and low for our shepherd—the town, the hills, and shores of the lake, Peter led us to the small inlet were he moored their boats.
As we approached the southern part of the inlet, on the eastern shore near Capernaum, we looked across the small bay and saw a fire burning on its north side. It could have been anybody—a vagrant, poacher, or criminal hiding from capture, but my first instinct was that it Jesus.
“You think so, Jude?” Peter sighed wearily. “Why would he pick such a desolate place?”
“Jesus is theatrical,” I reminded him. “You remember how he calmed the storm?”
“Why would he play games with us?” Judas asked peevishly. “He never speaks plainly. It seems like he’s always trying to make a point.”
“What if he’s testing us?” I asked thoughtfully. “Like he did that day during the storm?”
“I agree with Peter,” Philip shook his head. “This doesn’t make sense. When he departed from us in Hippo, he said he wanted to be alone with God. Why would he pick that godforsaken place?”
“The weather’s good enough for nighttime fishing,” Andrew suggested. “It could be someone poaching our fishing grounds.”
“What if its a gang of bandits, like Barabbas?” Thomas gave us a frightened look.
“There’s only one way to know for certain.” Peter set his jaw. “Let’s go find out!”
In one of Peter’s larger boats, a craft with a mainsail similar to the boat when Jesus silenced the storm, we set out that night. There was barely a breeze, so we would have to man the oars to reach our goal. Bartholomew tied the reins of his mule to the dock before we took our places. Hanging the lantern on the mainsail hook, Peter instructed us to row, while he sat the stern scanning the distant shore and Bartholomew sat near the mainsail post, suffering the ordeal.
“Come on, men,” he commanded, “put your muscle into it!”
“Is he like this when you’re fishing?” I asked John.
“Sometimes,” he replied. “Normally we can use the sail.”
“Don’t forget,” Judas grumbled, “this is a test!”
“It’s not a test,” Andrew huffed. “You really think Jesus plays games?”
“Man your oars!” snapped Peter. “We have to find him!”
For several moments, as I listened to the oars slosh, I wondered again what I was doing among these rude men. James, the most educated of us, must have missed Jerusalem and its comforts, and poor Bartholomew, who had sat peacefully in retirement, had been robbed of his rest. Matthew, Simon, and Thomas had also given up wages to live as vagabonds, and the fisherman, who had a steady livelihood, had given up security and family to become fishers of men. Who was I—an aimless wanderer—to complain? I had no wife and responsibilities other than myself. Except for working around the house in Capernaum, I had never held a permanent job…. Of all the people on this boat, Peter, who owned a fishing business, had given up the most. Once when we were around the fire and Jesus was off in the night praying to God, I heard him complain about his plight. “When this is over,” he concluded stubbornly, “I’ll return to my business. My men can watch the business. It’s just a matter of time.” Andrew, however, who had been with Jesus since the beginning, replied words that gave me comfort that hour: “No, Peter, you’ll never return—not really, none of us will. This is a one-way trip. Where it leads we don’t know. The people wait to hear the good news…. We are the first to know!”
From the day Jesus began looking at Peter as his second-in-command, Peter’s attitude began to change. He became a leader and example for us. I may not have liked him very much at times, particularly those moments on the lake, but something happened that hour that reinforced my respect for him.
As the boat approached the north side of the inlet, the distant blaze grew and grew, until we could make out a figure standing by the fire. Because it was too indistinct at first to discern, our fears of whom it might be increased. Why would anyone be out there unless they were outcasts or criminals? Thomas and Bartholomew were even fearful it might be Barabbas, the bandit leader. But, if this was so, where were his cohorts? If it wasn’t Jesus, why could it just be a poacher or itinerant tramp? Why would Jesus pick this desolate place?
“What if it’s a leper?” Philip thought to ask.
“It’s possible,” Bartholomew nodded. “I saw a few by the lake.”
“Hah!” Judas scowled. “All this for a leper. Wouldn’t that just be our luck?”
“Wait a minute!” Peter rose up suddenly, rocking the boat. “Look! Do you men see that?”
“Sit down Peter,” cried Andrew, “you’re going to tip us over!”
“I see it!” I pointed excitedly
“Me too!” Matthew, Simon, and Thomas exclaimed.
Peter sat back down, describing the event: “The man left the fire…. He’s walking down the river bank…He’s stepping into the water…”
“It’s a ghost!” Andrew gasped. “He moves like a phantom.”
“By the infernal spirits,” Philip cried, “he’s walking on water!”
“Stop rowing!” John shouted. “Pull in your oars!”
“No!” Peter stood up recklessly again. “It’s not a ghost, phantom or evil spirit—its our master.”
“Fear not men,” Jesus called across the lake. “It’s me Jesus. Don’t be afraid!”
With sudden inspiration, Peter began stepping out of the boat. “Lord,” he cried, “I’ll meet you on the water.”
“Come on, Peter.” Jesus laughed with delight. “I’m waiting!”
“Does he know how to swim?” asked Simon.
“Yes,” replied Andrew, “all fishermen can.”
“He doesn’t look too sure.” Judas snickered. “I bet he sinks like a rock!”
Cynical as his words were, Judas had uttered prophecy. After a few unsteady steps, which caused us to cheer him on, Peter began to sink. Though he could swim, it was, he later explained shamefacedly, like sinking into quicksand. The sensation caught him off guard, making him fearful for his life.
“Lord save me!” he shrieked.
“Ho-ho!” Judas giggled. “I told you he’d sink!”
Jesus walked over the water toward us. “Relax,” he instructed. “Flutter your arms and legs. Swim back to the boat.”
Struggling into the boat with our help, Peter returned to the stern, laughing hysterically at his antics. Only Judas had dared to make fun of him. James and I were impressed by his effort to walk on water. Most of all, however, we were impressed by Jesus’ latest miracle. Standing like a vision on the lake, Jesus gently scolded him. “Why’d you doubt yourself? You almost did it!” “For shame, men” he added, walking back toward the shore. “With strong enough faith you could move mountains. At least Peter tried!”
“I was showing off!” Peter muttered. “I’m sorry I let you down.”
“You didn’t let me down.” Jesus called over his shoulder. “All of you men are learning. It just takes time. Come join me by my fire!”
As we rowed to the shore, Peter berated himself under his breath. To make him feel better, Thomas admitted he couldn’t swim and would probably have drowned. With good-humored banter, the fishermen poked fun at him. Matthew, Simon, Thomas, Bartholomew, James, and I agreed it was a worthy effort, whereas Judas continued giggling with mirth. After we exited the boat and pulled it ashore, we found Jesus sitting before a bonfire, several fishes roasting on a spit, jugs of water or wine and loaves of bread on the ground. Because we were famished, we sat down immediately around the fire, waiting for Jesus to say the blessing. No sooner had he finished his prayer, than he began portioning out on leaves, a fish and loaf of bread for each of us. After this he distributed one-by-one the mugs after filling them to the brim. To our delight it was, in fact, wine.
With little chatter as we finished our meal, we watched him rise suddenly and glance around the group.
“Who do the people say I am?” he asked, taking a sip of wine.
“You are a great prophet!” Andrew exclaimed. “Some say your Elijah returned in the flesh!”
“More than that!” I jumped up. “Isaiah foretold of a savior. You are that man!”
“What about you?” He looked down at Peter.
Peter stood up, cup in hand, and bellowed. “You’re more than merely the Messiah, Jesus; you’re the Son of God!”
This was a mental thunderbolt. We were dumbfounded. Everyone, except Jesus, gasped and Judas actually spat out his wine, but Jesus, his face radiant with joy, clutched Peter’s shoulders, exclaiming, “Blessed are you Peter among all men. This wasn’t revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” “On this rock,” he presented him to us, “I’ll build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not overcome it. To you Peter I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will loosed in heaven.”
“Whoa!” Andrew’s mouth dropped. “I wasn’t expecting that!”
“Are you serious?” James blurted. “You claim to be the Son of God?”
“I am.” He stared back into the fire. “You know this, James. You and Jude sensed it from the beginning.”
“Yes.” I looked at him in wonder. “… ever sense you healed that bird.”
“Even our mother didn’t know this.” James gazed up at him, as if he was seeing Jesus for the first time. “Our brother… the Son of God!”
“How can there be such a thing?” Judas protested. “Where is this written in scripture? Is everything we’ve been taught a lie?”
“I don’t remember hearing about this.” Philip mumbled.
“Me neither,” John agreed.
“It’s one thing to claim to be the Messiah,” Judas said, shaking his head, “but this is too much!”
“Don’t spoil this moment!” Peter gave him a threatening look. “You too, Philip and John!” Turning back to Jesus, tears glistened in his eyes. “My parents never taught this to me,” he said looking around the group. “I never learned this in a scroll. I heard it in my head as clear as thunder.” “Jesus is not merely the Messiah,” he repeated, gripping his shoulder, “he’s the Son of God!”
Simon scratched his head. “That’s like saying there’s two gods, isn’t it?”
Before Peter could scold him, Jesus reached over to pat Simon’s head. “Someday, Simon,” he prophesized, “they’ll call you the Zealot because of your faith. In spite of your past, there’s already a kernel in you. This won’t be easy for any of you to understand.”
Simon’s voice constricted, “… Those priests, Pharisees, and scribes really had it wrong. I might not understand this, but I believe you Jesus,” he decided finally. “It would take a god to do what you’ve done!”
“That’s true,” Thomas looked around for agreement, “he’s proven it. Hasn’t he men?”
“Yes, he certainly has,” admitted James.
“Hundreds of times!” I slapped my knee.
Jesus looked squarely at Thomas that moment. “More blessed are those who believe because of my words. Someday, when I’m gone, it will be the Word, not the deeds, that will live on.”
“Master!” Peter gave him a frightened look. “What do you mean ‘when you’re gone?’”
“Yes, Jesus!” My heart leaped in my chest. “Is there something you’re not telling us now?”
All twelve disciples were standing around Jesus now as he gave us his dreadful prediction:
“The time draws closer,” he began, looking at each one of us. “Soon I must go the Jerusalem and suffer many things from the Pharisees, priests, and scribes. I’ll be delivered to them and killed, but on the third day afterwards I shall be resurrected—all of which is necessary to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy, which is God’s will.”
“Wait, wait?” Peter held up his hand. “Killed? Resurrected? What does all this mean?”
“I didn’t speak in parables this time,” Jesus replied solemnly. “You know exactly what I mean!”
“But you’re the Son of God.” I stared at him in disbelief. “No one can touch you!”
“He’s right,” James reached out pleadingly, “say it isn’t so!”
“I’m sorry, my brothers,” he said consolingly, “but you, more than anyone, must understand!”
“Understand they’re going to kill you?” I stared at him blankly. “This is madness, Jesus. Something written long ago by that eccentric prophet must be obeyed? He couldn’t even get the story straight: first he prophesizes a warrior king and then a man who will be killed? I can’t believe God would want this, Jesus. You always told me he’s a merciful God.”
“That’s not helping anything,” Peter gave me a sympathetic look. “We have to sort this out!”
“There’s nothing to sort.” Jesus sighed deeply. “I spoke clearly. I repeat: it’s the will of God.”
“This makes no sense at all!” Judas held his head. “It’s all a bad dream. Not only is he not a deliverer, he’s mad!”
“Shut up, you fool!” Peter cried in a strangled voice. “Can’t you see who this man is?”
Jesus took Peter aside then. I followed behind them, even though Jesus made scooting motions with his hands.
“Why is even here?” I asked him discreetly. “You told me to befriend Judas, but he’s not one of us. He’ll never, ever be!”
“Remember what I told you about Judas having a purpose?” Jesus asked thoughtfully. “This is very hard for everyone to understand, even for you and Peter, but you must trust me.”
“I agree with Jude.” Peter looked back at Judas with a scowl. “But Judas is right about one thing: this doesn’t make sense. This will never happen to you. I won’t let you die!”
Jesus’ eyes bore into Peter and he said, ”Get behind me, Satan! You’ve become a stumbling block to me if you persist. You’re not thinking God’s concerns, Peter, only human concerns, if you tempt me now.”
Peter was crestfallen, as was I. Jesus had spoke loudly enough for everyone within earshot to hear.
“Uh, I’m sorry,” Peter hung his head.
“I guess what you said goes for me too.” I looked down at the ground.
He returned to the group and gave us a brief but vital sermon. “This goes for all you!” He raised his arms. “Whomever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they’ve done.”
Looking at John that moment, he seemed to single him out. “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
John didn’t understand what Jesus meant. None of us did. We were still grappling with the fact that Jesus was the Son of God.
Nothing was the same after that day. Jesus ordered us not to tell anyone that he was the Son of God or to divulge what would happen to him one dark, terrible day. But ultimately, as the day drew near, there was no way to hide this information from his followers nor his family and friends.
That night, when we returned to Peter’s house, Jesus tried to be cheerful despite giving us that dreadful news. No one wanted to believe it. Everyone hoped that he was just being glum. He reminded us before we entered the house not to burden the women with the news. His true identity that he revealed had been hard enough to explain but his fate at the hands of the Pharisees, scribes, and priests would make it seem like a cruel joke. For this reason, the two-sided story, about Jesus identity and his fate, would be kept from the women. Jesus wanted this secret to remain within the twelve. When we arrived, however, Mary Magdalene and Peter’s family greeted us at the door. Esther, Dinah, and Bernice knew that we had been hunting for Jesus and were just glad he was all right, but Mary, who was very intuitive, knew immediately that something was wrong. Since everyone knew Jesus couldn’t lie we closed ranks around him immediately. It didn’t matter if he tried not to answer, his facial expressions might give him away. In the scribe’s parlance, he was an open scroll.
“Mary,” Peter made shooing motion, “leave Jesus alone!”
“Why can’t he talk to me?” She puckered her lip. “You’re being so unfair!”
“Jesus is just tired,” I explained patiently. “Let him rest. He’ll talk in the morning after he gets some sleep.”
“Hah!” She tossed her head. “I know when something’s wrong. I can see it in his eyes.”
“Go away, woman!” Philip pointed to the kitchen.
“You heard him.” Andrew gave her a push. “Leave Jesus alone!”
“No.” Mary folded her arms. “You men are bullies. Why won’t you tell us what happened? It’s something awful. I just know it!”
“Mary,” James grew irritated with her petulance, “why are you making a scene? You’re acting like a child. He’ll talk about this in the morning!”
Jesus was no longer smiling. “She knows,” I heard him whisper faintly. Peering through our bodies at Jesus, she tried to get his attention. “Jesus,” she said tearfully, “you look so sad!”
“Mary,” Dinah called shrilly from the kitchen, “stop this at once!”
Backing away dejectedly, Mary was grabbed bodily by Esther and Bernice and dragged across the room. I would learn later from Esther, by her observations, that Mary fancied herself as some sort of mystic. Before we went to sleep that night, I heard Dinah complain to Peter about Mary’s laziness. Esther, Bernice, and Dinah cleaned the house, cooked, and did the gardening, while young Mary wandered in a daze through the hills. In a muted tone, I overheard Jesus voice his concern about this. Sooner or later someone would find out what he told his disciples, but it was too soon for this secret to get out. Peter suggested discreetly that we send her away, perhaps to his mother’s house, but, after the hostility shown toward him in Nazareth, Jesus wanted to avoid that town. Mary’s eccentric behavior would clash with townsmen there and he was certain she would get on our mother’s nerves, too. “No,” Jesus was heard saying to Peter, “Dinah and Esther must somehow learn to control her. There is simply no other place for Mary to go.”
While I settled down that evening and listened to idle chatter in the room, I heard much criticism of Mary Magdalene, some of which she deserved. She was either slightly mad or had a gift for reading people that Jesus, himself, possessed. Regardless of what caused her rudeness and overbearing nature, I felt sorry for her. She had led a dreadful life until meeting Jesus. Now she appeared to be torn with visions of his doom.
“Poor Mary,” I said to James. “She won’t give up.”
“Humph!” he grumbled. “Poor nothing. Listen to that wench. Esther’s going to have to knock her out!”
“She can’t help it.” I tried explaining. “…. Somehow she’s figured it out. She knows and Jesus realizes that she knows. Not having all the details like us must be awful.”
“She’s addled.” James sneered. “Judas thinks she’s still possessed.”
“It takes one to know one,” I said in a singsong voice, “but that thought occurred to me too.”
Soon James was snoring softly on his pallet. Bartholomew and most of the disciples had already fallen asleep. In spite of her peculiarities, I still found Mary charming and attractive. I hadn’t made love to a woman for such a long time. As I lie there in the shadowy room, staring up through the hole in the roof at the stars, my mind drifted from Mary to Jesus thunderous revelations and then to what this meant to my life. Not only was I Jesus brother now, I was brother to the Son of God… Had I not been prepared somewhat for this news, this thought might have driven me insane.